The EPA today proposed strengthening the Worker Protection Standard, which has not been updated in more than twenty years, to address many agricultural pesticide safety concerns.
The federal Worker Protection Standard, first adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, is notoriously difficult to enforce, and does not require record-keeping to document whether rules have actually been followed. It requires only minimal training on the risks that pesticide exposure can pose to workers’ children and families, so many workers don’t find out about those hazards until after the worst has happened. Additionally, it was designed with only adult workers in mind, but agriculture is different from most other industries in that it allows children to join labor crews at 12 years old – even at 10 in some crops – and these children are exposed to pesticides on the job.
“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of the men, women and children who harvest our food, yet regulations to protect these vital workers have not been updated to address this growing problem,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health for Farmworker Justice. “These injuries, illnesses, and deaths are preventable, and we urge the EPA to implement stronger protections as soon as possible.”
An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States. The nation’s 2 to 2.4 million farmworkers face the greatest threat from the health impacts of these chemicals. Ten to twenty thousand farmworkers are injured by pesticides on the job every year in the US. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures can include skin and eye injuries, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, and even death. Long-term exposure on the job can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families, and their children.
“We appreciate the EPA moving forward on this very important issue of stronger worker protections regarding toxic pesticides. We will review the proposed changes to evaluate their effectiveness in reducing pesticide poisoning of the people who harvest our food and their family members,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. “We, and other farmworker advocacy groups, will comment on the proposal and mobilize the public to show broad public support for stronger protections.”
Last week 52 members of Congress, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Linda Sanchez of California, urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a letter to release the proposed rule, stating that the current agricultural worker protection standard is "limited" and "insufficient" to protect workers from the hazards of handling pesticides. The same week, California-based Pesticide Action Network submitted a petition to McCarthy to strengthen the Worker Protection Standard, signed by more than 18,000 citizens.
The proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard can be viewed on the EPA’s website. The revisions will also be posted in the Federal Register in March, at which time the EPA will begin accepting comments from the public for 90 days.
To learn more about the harm caused by pesticide exposure, click here to read Farmworker Justice’s report Exposed and Ignored: How Pesticides are Endangering Our Nation’s Farmworkers.
The House Republicans’ immigration reform principles are an encouraging step forward in the necessary process to address a broken immigration system. But they mistakenly neglect the importance of opening up a path for hard-working immigrant families already in this country to become full participants in their communities and our country through citizenship.
The best way to ensure a strong and stable work force for American agriculture is through legal protection on the job and in communities for the roughly one million undocumented farmworkers already here and on the job. Our country benefits when its workers and their families are fully engaged in civic life.
“We are encouraged that the House is taking a preliminary step to address the immigration crisis in our country; however, the House GOP’s approach falls short of what is needed for 11 million people already living and working in our country,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. “Our country will be stronger if hard-working members of our society are covered by labor laws and able to fully participate in civic life as citizens.”
Last year, the United Farm Workers and a coalition of agricultural employers negotiated for months, with the support of a bipartisan group of Senators, eventually reaching a tough-but-fair agricultural stakeholder immigration agreement. That compromise establishes a roadmap for undocumented farmworkers and their children to earn legal permanent residency and apply for citizenship if they meet a series of qualifications. Farmworker Justice urges the House and the President to consider the importance of that roadmap as they continue to address immigration reform.
“The men and women who labor under difficult and dangerous conditions to put food on our tables deserve a balanced and fair response to the immigration crisis in our country. We urge the House, Senate, and President Obama to continue working towards much-needed immigration reform,” said Goldstein.
Farmworkers and their advocates welcomed news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon propose revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which provides minimal workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers. A coalition of farmworker, public health, and other non-partisan organizations has long urged the EPA to include stronger protections for farmworkers in the WPS.
It has been more than 20 years since these rules have been updated and the EPA has admitted for more than a decade that the standards are inadequate. Following a recently completed review by the Office of Management and Budget, advocates expect the EPA will publish the proposed rule for public comment in the next few weeks. Advocates would like the updated rules to include improved safety training requirements, safety precautions limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides, and mechanisms to improve enforcement of workplace protections.
An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States with our nation’s 1–2 million farmworkers facing the highest threat from the health impacts of these chemicals. The federal government estimates that there are 10,000–20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, and even death. Cumulative long-term exposures can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families, and their children.
Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice submitted a petition to the EPA in November 2011, on behalf of United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), Farm Worker Pesticide Project (FWPP), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), urging it to strengthen the outdated and weak WPS.
“While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are fundamentally disadvantaged and face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm. “We urge the EPA to offer farmworkers a more protective safeguard.”
“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families, leading to injury, illness, and death,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. “We applaud the administration for taking this step to help protect the men, women and children who labor to put food on our tables. We hope that the EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will include important safeguards for farmworkers and strengthen their right to a safe workplace.”
“Farmworkers have waited long enough,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “Every day without stronger regulations is a day where a farmworker risks short and long term health effects from workplace pesticide exposure. The time is now. Farmworkers need improved WPS standards.”
“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist with PANNA. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also means protection for farmworker children and families.”
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a national campaign to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on women and girls. It is observed on 10 March and Farmworker Justice is proud to work with our Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) partners, ASPIRA and National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) to promote this important day.
Women and girls have been impacted by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Women’s and girls’ risk of HIV is often overlooked, although approximately 25% of those infected with HIV in the United States are women. Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected compared to women of other races/ethnicities. By the end of 2010, Black women accounted for 64% of all estimated new HIV infections among women and Latina women accounted for an estimated 15%. [Source: Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]
The theme of NWGHAAD is “Share Knowledge. Take Action.” This year we decided to connect with organizations and people and hear from them. We partnered with our Latina AAALI partners ASPIRA and NHCOA, and collected a series of thoughts and reactions on HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls from our staff, partner AAALI organizations, organizations we work with nationally and in the field, constituents, and individuals. The thoughts ranged from a few words to page long reactions, poems, and memories. From the words of each submission we created a word cloud image of a hand, and then used each hand to create a larger image of a tree to symbolize courage and strength, life and growth.
The responses we got were truly moving. Some women talked about when they first learned about HIV or when they first experienced the death of someone close to them due to HIV. Others admitted to not really even thinking about women and HIV at all. Before being asked to reflect, they had not realized that women have different risks than men do and that some women may have a harder time protecting themselves from HIV or taking care of themselves if already infected. Some people sent words, powerful words, that came to mind when they thought about HIV and women: fear, exposed, voiceless, orphans, rape, mothers. We received responses in English, Spanish, and even Mixteco. Thoughts came from farmworkers, farmworker organizations, health centers, youth, older adults, national organizations, and organization Presidents and CEOs. To see the word clouds and read the individual messages, please visit our Facebook page.
What we learned is that we need to talk about women, girls, and HIV/AIDS more often and with more people. We need to encourage more women and girls to get tested, help HIV positive women find the care and treatment they need, and work to reduce the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS in our communities.
Farmworker Justice is a proud partner of the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and is working to raise the HIV knowledge, awareness, and action in farmworker and Latino communities. We encourage all our partners, supporters, and friends to “share knowledge and take action” today, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and every day.
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Immigration reform updates
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.
Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.